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Weight limit set for Milton-Madison Bridge

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Trucks 15 tons or more rerouted to Louisville, Markland Dam bridge

By The Staff

MILTON, Ky. – Tractor trailers and other vehicles weighing 15 tons or more soon will be barred from the Milton-Madison Bridge, following a recent inspection by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

A “fracture critical inspection” conducted in December revealed “advanced deterioration” of the bridge, officials said during a meeting Thursday, March 12, at Milton City Hall.

Matt Bullock, chief engineer for District 5 of the state Department of Highways, said Monday the inspection shouldn’t be confused with the recent tests done to the bridge’s concrete piers. Those tests, conducted in January and February, were to determine if the piers could be used to support a new span. The Milton-Madison Bridge Project, led by the KTC and the Indiana Department of Transportation, started working last August to determine the best course of action for replacing the 80-year-old span.

During a meeting of the Trimble County Fiscal Court in Bedford on Monday, Bullock said the December inspection was part of “regular and routine testing. That’s what proved how serious the condition is of our current structure,” he said, adding that the new weight restriction will become effective as soon as signs are posted, probably by April 1.

Cabinet reports show the bridge, which takes U.S. 421 across the Ohio River from Milton to Madison, Ind., carries about 9,100 vehicles a day. About 900 of those vehicles, mostly tractor-trailers, exceed 15 tons. These will be rerouted to the Markland Dam bridge in Gallatin County, 26 miles upriver, or to Louisville, 46 miles downriver.

Reports from the inspection indicate heavy rust is corroding the steel structure. Cracks are fracturing the bridge and salt from winter road treatments have further weakened the structure.

“It really eats away the bridge,” Bullock said of the use of road salt to fight ice on the bridge in winter. He said the worst damage was found on the Indiana side.

At the Feb. 12 meeting, David Steele, transportation engineer and branch manager for the Cabinet’s Division of Maintenance, declined to say if a catastrophic collapse – such as the 2007 incident in Minnesota – could occur on the bridge. “But it’s good for at least 15 tons.”

The Minnesota collapse killed 13 motorists and injured 145 others when a portion of the bridge carrying an interstate highway collapsed and the bridge fell into the Mississippi River.

“If we didn’t think it was safe for passage we would have it closed,” said Andrea Clifford, information officer for District 5.

Repairs to address these critical issues on the Milton-Madison Bridge will cost the two states about $100,000 each; work could start as early as July and would take at least a month, disrupting traffic with lane closures. Officials said they hope crews can avoid doing heavy construction work during peak traffic hours.

Signs will be posted in the coming weeks to alert truckers and other motorists of the new weight restriction.

“We’re hoping the least amount of people will be surprised when it’s posted,” Bullock said.

The weight-limit posting will be re-evaluated once repairs are completed, cabinet officials said.

Bullock said Monday that empty trucks that come in under the 15-ton limit will be allowed to cross, but said drivers “should be prepared to be stopped” by enforcement officers to prove their trucks weigh below the restriction.

Impact on companies

Tim Sheppard, Midwest regional manager for Gypsum Express in Ghent, Ky., said rerouting his trucks from the base at CertainTeed on U.S. 42 would add about 16 miles to any trip to Madison, traveling by way of Markland Dam rather than across the Milton-Madison Bridge. He said that’s an average of an extra $6 in fuel costs per load. He said they send about 40 trucks per day to Madison and other areas of Southern Indiana via Milton.

He said it’s unclear what the new route will mean, ultimately, in costs to his customers.

But Bob Parker, owner of Indiana-Kentucky Trucking on State Hwy. 36 West, said the new limit will greatly affect his company, which is located just four miles from the bridge.

Going to Markland Dam and back up Indiana Hwy. 56 would add 45 miles to each trip.

“On a good day, we run about 50 loads across the bridge,” or about 30 to 40 percent of his business, Parker said. He estimates the added mileage could lead to a cost increase of three to four times what his customers have been paying.

He said he isn’t sure if his company, which hauls mostly loads of sand and gravel and building materials from the Carroll County terminal, will be adversely affected. Most other companies that haul similar materials are located about the same distance from the Madison area.

“But it’s standard economics … the more something costs, the less it’s used,” he said.

Parker said the economy already has made things rough for IKT. “We’ve had the worst January and February we’ve had since we’ve been in business,” he  said.

Shay Bullock, co-owner of Country Carriers, at the corner of U.S. 421 and New Hope Road, said the effect the bridge will have on his drivers is tough to determine.

“It definitly doesn’t make it any easier,” he said. “It will mean more time on the road.”

Most of the materials hauled by Bullock’s drivers are steel, machinery, copper and heavy equipment, such as for job sites.

Many of his owner-operators haul loads as far as Chicago, Ill., and Indianapolis, Ind. He said it will depend on where each driver lives as to how far out of their way they will have to drive to avoid the Milton-Madison Bridge weight restriction.

His Kentucky drivers live in Trimble, Henry, Carroll, Oldham and Jefferson counties. “The guys who live up here will probably go across at Vevay,” he said. The others probably will go through Louisville.

He said at least 20 of his drivers use the Milton span each week; driving around the span will probably add at least 10 percent to the final cost of each load.